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Monday, April 18, 2005

Doom? Probably. Gloom? You betcha!

I just discovered the blog of James Howard Kunstler, author of Geography of Nowhere and the upcoming The Long Emergency. Here are some choice quotes (emphasis added):
Last week, the International Energy Agency, after years of dithering, warned of an imminent global oil shortage and made a list of surprisingly draconian recommendations, from lowering speed limits in all the advanced industrial nations, to a reduced work week, to a ban on using privately-owned vehicles (!). Nobody in the American government dared comment on that because it might unravel the web of delusion that we can continue living as a nation of tanning hut managers who qualify to buy 3000 square foot suburban McHouses (while making monthly payments on GMC Yukons).

But those rising prices at the gasoline pump send a message that is cutting through all the static of American Idol, Fox TV News, and the attempted panderings of vindictive little pricks such as Tom DeLay. Message: our standard of living is headed down. Fast.

Now, there is every reason to believe that the public will come to misinterpret that message, too, because the whole nation -- including many enviro-progressives, by the way -- have bought into the notion that, whatever else reality offers, we are entitled to a life of easy motoring and Ditech Miracle Mortgages, and an awful lot of people are going to lose their personal revenue streams when that illusion falls away.

What will remain is a continental-sized angry mob wanting to pole-axe the people who are running the show. Since the Democratic party has ceded its opposition by failing utterly to promote and alternate vision of reality, a new opposition is certain to form out of this mob. Unfortunately, it is in the nature of mobs to think not in terms of policy but of rolling heads.

The warm part of 2005 is shaping up to be a time when the center no longer holds, or even ceases to exist.
Over in Vermont last week, I ran into a gang of biodiesel enthusiasts. Biodiesel is oil extracted from vegetable crops that can be used to run engines and do other things as a replacement for petroleum. They were earnest, forward-looking guys who would like to do some good for their country. But their expectations struck me as fairly crazy, and in a way typical of the bad thinking at all levels of our society these days.

For instance, I asked if it had ever occurred to them that bio-diesel crops would have to compete for farmland that would be needed otherwise to grow feed crops for working animals. No, it hadn't. (And it seemed like a far-out suggestion to them.) Their expectation seemed to be that the future would run a lot like the present, that bio-diesel was just another ingenius, innovative, high-tech module that we can "drop into" our existing system in place of the previous, obsolete module of regular oil.
Note, as a biodiesel enthusiast myself, let me note that I don't think that there's any chance that biodiesel, or ANY fuel, will be able to support driving on anywhere near the scale it exists today. But I think it offers one way to keep the trains, trucks, ships and ambulances running to some degree, and maybe even allow us a car trip every month or two. It also is a politically and economically viable "bridge fuel" to help us get from the high-energy mess we're in currently to the low-energy mess we face in the future.

More from Kunstler:
The stock markets and the oil futures markets sank in tandem last week as the global economy responded to increasing strain by wobbling. Oil dipped below $50 a barrel. Don't expect it to linger there long, as the summer driving season approaches. (Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start.)

Americans will travel compulsively even in a darkening economy. They may not go to Europe right now, with coffee at five bucks a cup there, but they will keep driving around the US because the suburban wastelands where most Americans live are so unendurably depressing that their denizens will pay almost any price for gas to get away for a while -- if only to hyper-artificial destinations like Las Vegas and Disney World. In any case, virtually all American cities (or metroplexes, since the city part is now the least of them), are so designed that stupendous rates of daily motoring are unavoidable.
The spring of 2005 has that 1914 feel. In Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, the current hiatus has settled nothing. The various tribes and factions are still pissed off at each other and at us. America is still left with its huge oil import addiction and a suburban way-of-life that no amount of "energy conservation" can appease. The tectonic stresses of economic distortion have been building under the surface of the Wal Mart/China partnership. For those of you contemplating a vacation in Las Vegas, don't bet on the status quo.